There is no denying the fact that momo have become the new go-to streetfood across northern and eastern India. Chances are towards the end of your workday, you’d find yourself dreaming of tucking into a plate of steamy, hot momo with succulent meat filling along with that uber spicy red-chilli sauce and mayonnaise dips. The fact that they’re steamed may even convince you that you’re having something healthy.
But BJP MLC in Jammu and Kashmir Ramesh Arora would have none of this, and has taken it upon himself to rid the streets of the ‘Chinese staple’ because of its apparent negative impact on Indian food culture, while posing dangerous health implications for people. The first casualty is the popular yet humble momo, which, according to Arora, are symbolic of all Chinese dishes that people consume in India.
Speaking to indianexpress.com, he said, “These foods contain ajinomoto, a tastemaker that is added in these foods, which in turn makes them addictive,” adding, it has been researched and found out that these dumplings are more dangerous than alcohol and drugs. On June 4, Arora and his supporters even organised a seminar attended by officials from the Food and Drug Control Department, doctors, district administration officials, academicians, businessmen, etc., along with the people of Jammu and Kashmir, all of whom, who he claims, agreed that momo are indeed dangerous for consumption.
“No, replacing ajinomoto with iodised salt will not make Chinese foods any better,” he said, on being asked if the “addictive tastemaker” could be substituted with “desi namak”. But then the snack is steamed. Shouldn’t that add to nutritive value?
“Ajinomoto and maida are definitely not good for health, but they can be had in moderate measures of around once a week,” said Dr Sunali Sharma, dietician and nutritionist, Amandeep Hospital, Amritsar, adding that “it’s not right to just say that Chinese food is bad for health”.
Dr Pankal Pahwal, chief medical officer, Sitaram Bhartia Institute of Science and Research, New Delhi, says these foods are definitely not addictive. “They just trigger a very satisfying feeling in the brain, which is why Chinese foods are very popular,” he explained.
Arora’s reasoning against momo is also hygiene. “The refined flour used in making the foods is unhygienic and that it is just steamed makes it difficult to be digested. There have been cases when doctors have had to operate upon youths for 25-30 times to cure an intestinal problem,” he said. “Our food culture did not just develop overnight. It takes hundreds of years to develop a food culture and these Chinese foods have been trying to destroy that from the past 30 years or so,” the BJP legislator said.
Dr Pahwal agrees partly with Arora. “Maida is very difficult to consume. Especially, when it is just steamed, it becomes very hard for the system to digest it. Samosas and all are fried, which gives it some potential for digestion. Momo on the other hand is steamed. It is always better to avoid it.”
The BJP MLC’s efforts are paying off. “I am happy that the sale of momo has now gone down by 30-35 per cent. The shopkeepers have cooperated and now sell nutri-kulcha,” he said, adding that consumption of Chinese foods aggravate mild headaches to migraines, results in intestinal colitis in which the lining of the large intestine and the rectum gets inflamed.
Dr Sharma, though, feels that the fact that much of Chinese foods are made by steaming and boiling, there is some nutritive value to the food, but insists that nothing beats Indian snacks and foods. So, how does one choose an evening streetfood snack? Sharma said, “Chaat is a healthy option because it has protein, curd, fruits; then there’s bread pakora, followed by momo, patties and then samosas, going by how healthy each of these are.”